In recent years, I’ve made a habit of spending the last several days of the year engaged in a sort of psychological reset, which is basically a fancy way of saying I spend my time relaxing and thinking about things. I haven’t normally made resolutions because I’ve found that making resolutions on Jan. 1 – particularly specific ones like “write an hour every day” or “keep a daily journal” – is usually a solid way to ensure I keep said resolution for an average of about 11.7 days.
Instead, I spent some time making lists of goals I’d like to accomplish for the upcoming year. Some of those goals are athletic, and I will write about them later. Some of them are creative, like figuring out how to produce a podcast and writing a new zine. Others are personal, like learning to cook more vegetarian meals and converting the spare bedroom into an actual office. I wrote all of my goals down in a notebook, and then assigned each goal its own page and made a sublist of corresponding steps I can take to make each of those goals happen.
I am aware that this is incredibly dorky and that it also makes me sound like some kind of super-organized Type-A personality (which I am so not, not even close, I mean have you seen my closets?) but I’ve found that breaking down big ambitious goals into manageable chunks makes them way less likely to inspire the kind of panic that leads to paralysis that in turn leads to no goals being accomplished at all.
So yeah, I will take extreme dorkiness, which makes me feel embarrassed for like two seconds, over feeling like a total failure who is squandering her single chance at life, which is the kind of emotional experience that has caused me to break down in tears in the car while sitting in Tuesday-morning traffic. (Is that an overshare? Very well then, I overshare.)
At some point during this whole convoluted list-making process, I realized that maybe this year I did want to try making some resolutions again. Just two of them, and they are pretty simple. Here, I’ll share them with you:
- Deal with other people from a place of kindness. Not only do I feel like the world could always use more empathy and kindness, I just feel better when I handle a difficult situation without becoming defensive, rude or impatient. It might feel great in the moment to respond to someone who is a jerk by being a jerk right back to them, but later, upon reflection, I have almost always felt worse about it. I always feel better when I make the effort to be kind. This is especially true for the people I find most challenging.
- Find joy and pleasure whenever possible. On New Year’s Eve, I had to work until 11:30 p.m., which was undeniably a bummer, so I focused on things to make it less of a bummer. I put on silver eyeshadow and shiny red shoes, and drove to work while listening to Queen & David Bowie (“Under Pressure”) and the Rolling Stones (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). I got pad thai for dinner. When things slowed down I found “A League of Their Own” on TV and watched that while working. These are all small things, but they went a long way toward making a crummy situation decidedly less crummy.
Pretty simple, right? Not too complicated, pretty straight-forward, and if I mess up, another opportunity to get them right will come along pretty quickly. I like them.
Notice what I didn’t mention in my resolutions. I did not mention anything about dieting, or losing weight, or working out five times a week. I did write some athletic goals down, but that’s about it. Part of this is, I’m sure, due to the fact that my nutrition and physical activity habits are already pretty well ingrained in me by this time, and so I don’t feel the need to rely on resolutions to make these part of my life. I mean, what’s the point of making a resolution to run forty miles a week if I am already running forty miles a week?
But I also think that a bigger part of this is a direct reaction to some of the terrible things I’ve seen over the past couple of years as I’ve immersed myself further into fitness-related communities as a result of this blog. I wasn’t really sure how to articulate what I was seeing until I saw a tweet from Bookslut‘s Jessa Crispin in which she referred critically to the “cult of the body” and I thought, Yes, that’s exactly what I’m seeing.
I’ve seen holy wars break out over Paleo/primal/vegan/fruitarian ways of eating. I’ve seen smugnoms tell people with cancer that they wouldn’t be in this situation had they just avoided meat and processed food. I’ve seen people try to recast cruelty towards fat people as something intended to help them. I’ve seen people who can barely articulate a coherent thought brag about spending three hours a day in the gym. I’ve seen fitness and nutrition professionals basically use their platforms to inflict their disordered lifestyles on thousands of adoring followers. I’ve seen people wield their healthy lifestyles and their fit bodies as clubs with which they beat the heads of lesser mortals who may not have visible abs or who might have boxed food in their pantries.
The cult of the body struck me as the perfect way to describe the near-religious fervor with which so many fitness- and health-minded people approach their bodies. Instead of looking fitness and health as pursuits that help us care for our bodies so we can do other things in the world, the cultivation of optimal health and physical perfection has become the ultimate goal in and of itself.
But I can’t help but wonder what good it does to have a lean body if your entire existence is immersed in maintaining that physique? What good is an impressive 1 rep max deadlift if you haven’t a clue what’s happening in the world outside of your gym? What’s the point of looking great in a bikini if you cannot empathize with anyone but yourself? Sure, you’re totally ripped and pretty to look at, but is there anything going on beneath that?
The cult of the body takes the whole universe and shrinks it down to the size and shape of your body. And not even what’s inside of your body, like your heart and your mind, but just the exterior. The world becomes so narrow and so small, and maybe it’s less scary that way, but it’s also a lot less exciting and interesting that way, too.
I need my life to have more meaning than that. I need to feel like I’ve made a positive impact in the world. I need to be able to look at my life and to be able to say that I left my little corner of the planet a bit nicer than when I arrived. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think most of us want these things. But I think that a big part of this involves turning away from all of the cultural bullshit that tells us happiness and personal fulfillment can only be achieved through attaining physical and material perfection, and figuring out what actually matters to us, not what we’ve been told should matter to us.
I’m going to end this post with a lyric from Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts,” because like most of the Internet I spent the last two weeks of 2013 basically obsessing over her visual album. (Those videos, omg. OMG!) I heard this song while out for a run and I got such goosebumps I nearly had to sit down. Anyway, this is the part that’s relevant to what I’ve been thinking about:
“You’re tryna fix something but you can’t fix what you can’t see/It’s the soul that needs the surgery”
By all means, keep on trying to be fit and healthy. Keep on doing things that make you feel attractive. Take the best care of yourself that you possibly can. Get fancied up, admire yourself in the mirror, take all the selfies in the world and post them all over Instagram, whatever you want .
But don’t lose perspective about what it is that makes you who you are. Your body is just a small part of who you are. Do not let it become the whole universe.